Indian culture started when the British arrived: tales of shadology

When looking at Google Scholar after reading the paper on South Asian pigmentation, I came across this work, The Unfair Selection: A Study on Skin Color Bias in Arranged Indian Marriages:

Underlying the growing popularity of skin-lightening or fairness cosmetics in India is one of the most baseless biases experienced and practiced. Yet, the overriding importance of skin-color especially in context of marriage has been largely unaddressed. This exploratory study examined the influence of skin-color on preference for potential marriage partner. A 2 × 2 (gender × skin-color) between-group experimental design was used. Mothers (N = 108) of individuals of marriageable age group were presented with an option of five marital profiles containing education and work information only. The participants were shown profiles of either males or females depending on whether they had a son or a daughter. Once a profile was chosen, the participant was either shown a photograph of highly attractive fair girl/boy or a highly attractive dark girl/boy. The light-skinned and dark-skinned photograph was of the same person, except their skin tones were manipulated with the use of computer software. Participants were asked to rate how strongly would they recommend the girl/boy as potential bride/groom for their children. As expected, fair-skinned highly attractive people received higher ratings than dark-skinned highly attractive people. However, contrary to our expectations, ratings received for dark-skinned woman were not significantly lower than the ratings received for dark-skinned man. This study shows that the color of skin has the potential to even overpower traits such as general competency and physical attractiveness in both men and women.

The subjects are from the Indian capital. The surprising result is no sex difference. I’m not too interested in the paper’s primary result, but the introduction and discussion, which frames the preference for light skin historically, is of interest.

From the introduction:

While Black scholars in the Unites States have thoroughly examined the link between racism and colorism, there is paucity of information tracing the historical roots of skin-color discrimination in India (Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009a). Internalization of superiority of fair/white skin has been related to the combined influences of colonialism, caste system,
and globalization. Many South-Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and so on were ruled by the British for around 200 years; “white” race was the ruler and the “dark” native were the ruled. This led to internalization of superiority and power of the “white” skin and inferiority and powerlessness of the “dark skin” (Speight, 2007). Internalized racism reveals itself in a variety of situations from work environment to social situations where people of color reject or denigrate those with dark-skin. The caste system in India is likely to have given impetus to the notion of superiority of fair skin-color brought by colonial rule (Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009b; Shankar & Subish, 2016). Higher castes have been perceived to be “fairer” and superior while lower castes have been perceived to be “darker” and inferior. Today, in postcolonial world, globalization has led to increased spread and acceptance of Western beauty ideals in Asian and African cultures (Hunter, 2011; Peltzer, Pengpid, & James, 2016).

First, the Muslim West and Central Asians who arrived in South Asia, described it as a pattern where white people conquered black people. These people were quite aware that South Asians were not black in the way Sub-Saharan Africans were. There were black Africans in the armies of the Muslims, as the Siddi community demonstrates. Nor did the Iranians, let alone the Turks, consider themselves to be of the same people as the Europeans.

But when it came to the metric of skin color, the Muslim ruling class of South Asia was disproportionately very light in complexion and described themselves often as white. The natives were described often, though not always, as black (though more often obviously as “Hindus” or whatnot). When Europeans arrived they did not come as conquerors, but as supplicants to the great Mughal and the other powers. They perceived themselves to be white, just like the elite Muslims, as opposed to the dark-skinned native Indian population, which was mostly, though not exclusively, non-Muslim.

As the 19th century proceeded Europeans, and in particular the British, developed a refined, narrow, and simultaneously biological and cultural conception of whiteness which excluded West and Central Asian Muslims. But this was a process and does not negate the fact that the ruling elite of South Asia was disproportionate of the Muslim religion and very light-skinned in comparison to the populace as a whole for many more centuries than British rule occurred.

Second, “higher castes” are not perceived to be lighter in complexion. The data is clear: higher castes are on the whole on average lighter in complexion. Just as people from the north, and west, of the subcontinent, are lighter in complexion than people from the south and east. This is not a perception dictated by ideology, but biology.

As for whether Brahmins have become “higher” castes recently, my understanding is that they have always been a high caste, and that the British did not give them their high casteness. To be frank, Indian social heirarchies do not need the imprimateur of white Europeans to come into existence, ex nihlo.

And genetics makes it clear that castes seem to have been separated and distinct for around ~2,000 years or so in South Asia. Even before the Muslims!

Now, I don’t know enough about South Asian history and culture to comment on this part:

Thus, skin-color is related to social hierarchy in India; fair skin is often considered to be a mark of higher social standing. However, it is important to note that historically and culturally, dark not white skin was considered to be ideal and desirable in India. Some notable examples are the popularity of God Krishna (literally black) and Draupadi (also called Krishnaa), a character from the epic Mahabharata. Krishna is worshipped in many parts of India whereas Draupadi was considered to be one of the most desirable women in the world. The transformation of ideal skin-color from dark to fair can be traced to the influence of caste system, British imperialism, and global hegemony of whiteness. The caste system also called varna (literally color) accounts for the perceived superiority of fair skin over dark. Owing to the association of fairer skin with upper caste and darker skin with lower castes, skin-color came to signify the social position of an individual in our society. In addition, the racist construction of “dark native” by the British seems to have become a part of our unconscious and is often projected as strong dislike for the “dark other” (Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009b).

I would be curious about the idea that dark skin was preferred to light skin. The historical genetics makes it clear that lighter invasive populations seem to have arrived and placed themselves on top of darker populations, with some mixing before caste crystallization.

Finally:

The popularity of some dark-skin colored Bollywood actresses like Bipasha Basu, Kajol, Deepika Padukone, and so on suggests that masses are likely to accept a dark-skinned woman if she is perceived as highly attractive.

I do understand that Indian actresses use make-up (or lightening cream) to make their complexion seem fairer than it would otherwise be…but it is clear none of these actresses are actually dark-skinned in the broader South Asian context. They are at best of average complexion.

Now, perhaps you will tell me that I spend time only with kala-batchas or something, I really don’t know. But this whole paper is soaked in postcolonial anti-Western delusional discourse…and then it ends in the shadological delusion that these average complexioned actresses are actually dark skinned! Average South Asians are not light brown, they are medium brown. Medium brown actresses are not dark-skinned, they are dark-skinned for actresses (which is fine, but a different thing than being representative of the population).

Go to Google Images and type “dark-skinned Indian actress” and then “dark-skinned black actress.” In the latter case, the actresses are genuinely dark-skinned. In the former case, only a minority are actresses with the complexion of Sharon Muthu.

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Skin color of South Asian groups

A massive new review, Shades of complexity: New perspectives on the evolution and genetic architecture of human skin, pointed me to another paper on South Asian skin color, The influences of genes, the environment, and social factors on the evolution of skin color diversity in India. I was very interested because South Asians have been telling me about complexion my whole life. Usually, it is to suggest that their group is lighter than some other group. So I thought it would be interesting to post some data.

Solomon Islanders

The figure at the top shows melanin indexes for a host of populations. The lower the value, the lighter the skin. So you see that Irish samples above have a melanin index of 26.5, while Italians have one of 31. East Asians in Canada have a melanin index of 38. Predominantly African ancestry populations have melanin indices >50, while the very dark Melanesian people of the Solomon Islands have a melanin index of about 90.

I’ve collected the Indian data from the paper:

Continue reading “Skin color of South Asian groups”

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Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act on Affirmative Action

Three comments

1 – He was relatively fair. I mean you knew what talking points he was going to deploy and what his conclusion was going to be.

2 – Minhaj is very American. A particular sort of American. Though the episode focuses on “Asian Americans”, Minhaj sounds like he was birthed out of The Daily Show comedy-clone factory.

3 – I don’t think it was that funny. And I don’t think the audience found it particularly funny either.

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Muslims have always known how weird Saudi Arabia is

I’m not a big fan of Hasan Minhaj’s “Millennial smug” style of comedy. What it really reminds me is Brad Stine’s “Christian comedy.” It’s aimed toward ingroups and comes off as tone-deaf and stupid to outgroups. So you know what you’re getting into.

That being said, as someone who is Muslim Minhaj has always “gotten” the issue with Saudi Arabia. Most Muslims I have known, from very conservative Salafi types to irreligious cultural varieties, have strange and strong attitudes toward Saudi Arabia. Even the most conservative often have mixed attitudes, because Saudi Arabia may sponsor Salafism worldwide, but no one can deny that the ruling family are hypocrites in their private practice.

Believing Muslims though have to admit that the Saudis are currently the guardians of Islam’s holy sites, and, the kingdom provides a great deal of money for various Muslim causes as well as Muslims more generally. And of course, Saudi Arabia has been a source of employment for many Muslims from outside the kingdom for many decades.

The fact that we are “having a discussion” about Saudi Arabia as if there is a discussion to have is a testament to the power of money in public discourse, and how one can buy elite complicity.

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Nikki Haley shows she’s a good politician in regards to religion too


This week on The Remnant podcast, Jonah Goldberg, whose wife works for Nikki Haley, expounded at length about her skill as a politician. His point, which is legitimate, is that Haley is well liked by the broad mass of Trump-supporting Republicans (if not elite pro-Trump idealogues), as well as Trump-skeptical conservatives.

I’ve known of Nikki Haley since 2004, a few years after Bobby Jindal came onto to the national scene. Both are conservative Indian American Republicans elected as governors in the South. But there are differences between the two. While Haley can arguably “pass” as white, Jindal cannot (both are of Punjabi ethnicity). But a bigger difference has been their attitude toward religion: Jindal has worn his Christian conversion and faith on his sleeve, while Haley has been much more low-key. Throughout her career, Haley has admitted that the Sikh gurdwara remains a part of her life, despite her conversion to Methodist Christianity. Could you imagine Jindal saying such a thing about a Hindu temple?

The above is a video clip of Haley during a 2014 visit to India, where she visited the Golden Temple with her husband. When asked about her conversion to Christianity, she avers the sincerity of her belief. But Haley also speaks in an ecumenical language and seems to express the view that her choice of religion was in keeping with her culture as an American. Her turn to Christianity was not a denial of Sikhism, which she seems to see as grounded in India.

I can’t look into Haley’s heart, and to be frank her religious faith is not my business. But, I think I can say many people of subcontinental background tend to view converts to American Christianity as opportunists or somehow lacking in cultural pride and internal strength. American evangelical Protestant acquaintances would often mock Hinduism in front of me, despite the fact that I have a Muslim name and have been an atheist since I was a small child. To convert to Christianity is perceived by some to be conceding the point of that mockery.

And yet above Haley seems to be interpreting her conversion to Christianity as an expression of her alignment with the Dharma of the land in which she grew up, the United States. You may agree or disagree with her, but her emotional expression above certainly does make it seem that she retains a deep fondness for her Sikh upbringing.

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